The International Governing body of Soccer has had a temperamental month in the wake of the World Cup. Which by all accounts had been a success. Pundits and fans alike praised the unpredictability, scoring was abundant (2.64/game and 169 in total), and the introduction of VAR, despite twitter loathing, works to make the game more accurate. From an update to their Code of Ethics, the decision to Ban the President of the Palestinian Football Association, and a take-over in Uruguay, FIFA continues to be a polarizing figure in the world of sports.
Okay, so what do you want first the Good news or the Bad?
I’ll make the decision for you: Bad (It’s my article and that’s I researched first).
On August 14th, the FIFA Public Relations team released a clarification to changes in their Code of Ethics after receiving backlash from media that certain changes seemed hypocritical. The goal was to reassure everyone that FIFA is a shining example of transparency and in no way corrupt. Very Brave. The two main issues raised with the revisions dealt with language or lack thereof. The omission of “Corruption” sounds like a way for the governing body to shift blame for scandals to the individuals involved and FIFA to wipe their hands clean. In FIFA’s defense, they note the language was changed to translate better, and the meaning behind the words remain the same (see the previous sentence). The second controversy, a change to the statute of limitations for cases pertaining to “Bribery and Corruption”. Previously, cases dealing with the subject had no time limitations in when it could be investigated or prosecute the offenders. The official stance can be summed up in this quote from the aforementioned presser:
the Ethics Committee believes that ten years (or 15 years if an investigation is open) is a sufficient period of time in which to complete the investigation in cases of serious infringements. This change will bring more legal certainty to the world of football by ensuring that potential infringements to the code are dealt with in a swift manner.
Now, to get the big picture as to why this is controversial we need to look at the appointment of Gianni Infantino as President of FIFA. In an interview with Fox Soccer’s Grant Wahl (video below), his pitch for president is to regain the trust of fans by bringing more transparency to the organization. As the successor to disgraced former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, his goal was to clean up the way the governing body is run and continue to develop the game.
Sounds pretty good, right?
In 2016 Infantino was investigated by the FIFA ethics committee for suspected violations of their ethical policy. The investigation would focus on: “several flights taken by Mr. Infantino during the first months of his presidency, human resources matters related to hiring processes in the president’s office, and Mr. Infantino’s refusal to sign the contract specifying his employment relationship with FIFA”. In documents leaked by an anonymous source (ex-FIFA official) to the committee showed Infantino’s illegitimate spending of FIFA Funds. £8,795 for mattresses at his home, £6,829 for a stepper exercise machine, £1,086 for a tuxedo, £677 on flowers and £132 on personal laundry. And that was enough for the committee to remove him from office…except it wasn’t.
Instead, the committee determined Infantino had not acted improperly when World Cup host bidding countries (Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022) flew him and his staff by private jet to make their pitch. As far as using FIFA funds for personal use the committee ruled: “human resources matters, as well as Mr. Infantino’s conduct with regard to his contract with FIFA, if at all, constituted internal compliance issues rather than an ethical matter.” Beyond reasonable doubt, Gianni Infantino has made unethical decisions during his tenure as President of FIFA. Which makes these changes to FIFA’s ethical standards so stupefying. While FIFA says the setting of a statute of limitations for corruption cases will increase the likelihood they catch and prosecute those responsible. The reality is putting a time limit only gives an advantage to corrupt officials taking kickbacks; if they can cover it up for 10 years.
Now I could delve deeper into FIFA corruption, but I promised to comment on two more stories that FIFA handled well. The first being the 12-month match suspension of Jibril Rajoubthe; President of the Palestine FA. Rajoubthe urged fans to target the Argentine FA and burn effigies of Lionel Messi to protest a friendly match in Jerusalem between Argentina and Israel. By barring Rajounthe from making media appearances or attending any official games I’ll concede that FIFA did a good job and isn’t completely useless. The other story comes out of the Uruguay FA. Last week FIFA announced that a normalization committee would take over as heads of the Uruguay FA due to violations to ethical standards in place for presidential elections. Nothing Ironic here. The committee will stay in place till February 2019 and run the AUF’s daily affairs; review the AUF statutes and ensure their compliance and amendment in line with the requirements of FIFA’s and conduct new elections.
All in all, the new administration is fulfilling their promise to grow the game. Allocating resources to the countries who will benefit from it the most and creating a product that is accessible to people across the globe. But for every step forward, they take two back. It’s difficult to separate the current administration from the previous if they seem to continue down the path of unethical behavior but create safeguards that benefit those who can hide it.